A farmer at work in Kenya's Mount Kenya region © Neil Palmer
Kenya is the 'Land of the Lion King' and sits at the centre of the African safari experience, with an outstanding variety of wild animals and Big Five viewing opportunities. Although safaris are its greatest attraction, it is a country of great diversity with much more to offer than splendid wildlife. Essentially it is a place for outdoor living - the coast offers beaches and water-based activities, the mountains present a challenge to hikers and climbers, and the rolling savannahs are a game-viewers paradise.
The country sits astride the equator and offers fabulous scenery and a variety of tribal cultures. From its central location, the sacred peaks of Mt Kenya reign over a landscape primarily covered by grasslands and thorn trees, much of it enclosed within its many parks and reserves. To the west the spectacular Great Rift Valley is sprinkled with lakes teeming with a variety of birdlife, whose shores and surrounds are traversed by agricultural farmlands. To the east lies the promise of an idyllic beach holiday with the requisite white palm-fringed beaches and pristine coral reefs. Inhabiting the highlands and Rift Valley are two of the most well known of the numerous tribal cultures, the Kikuyu farmers and the tall, red-clad Masai cattle herders. The coast is home to ancient Swahili civilisations and old port towns that are rich in a history of exotic spice trading and fighting.
Kenya has a sophisticated tourism infrastructure, with two major cities controlling the majority of the tourism trade. Nairobi, the capital, is the safari and hiking hub, situated in the cool Central Highlands, while on the east coast the hot and humid trading port of Mombasa functions as the gateway to the resorts and pristine beaches of the area. Sadly the heavy influence of tourism has meant excessive prices for safaris, souvenirs and most activities of interest to foreigners, as well as the constant hassle by touts, guides and sellers to part with as much money as they can dupe the guilty traveller into spending.
Safety has been a concern for tourism in the last few years. Kenya has in the past experienced a spate of terrorist attacks, particularly in Nairobi, Mombasa and coastal regions, and many governments have issued travel warnings for the country. Warnings do not, however, include Kenya's safari destinations in the national parks, reserves and wildlife conservancies and these are safe for tourists. Travellers are advised to inform themselves on the situation though and to avoid areas identified as dangerous by official government sources.
Yet despite these unfortunate incidents, a trip to Kenya is usually trouble free and the people are very friendly and interesting. Ultimately, the combination of wildlife, beaches and mountains make Kenya the perfect safari destination and excellent option for an African safari holiday.